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By Marshall Allen and Olga Pierce, ProPublica 

Ernie Ciccotelli takes a phone call inside his law office in Norwich, Vt., on Dec. 31, 2013. Ciccotelli suffered complications after he donated a kidney to his brother in January of 2006 at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. Ciccotelli was unable to find a malpractice attorney to take on his case. Photo: Matthew Healey for ProPublica

Ernie Ciccotelli takes a phone call inside his law office in Norwich, Vt., on Dec. 31, 2013. Ciccotelli suffered complications after he donated a kidney to his brother in January of 2006 at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. Ciccotelli was unable to find a malpractice attorney to take on his case. Photo: Matthew Healey for ProPublica

Ernie Ciccotelli was trying to do a good deed when he donated a kidney to his brother. But within days of the surgery, his incision was oozing green fluid and his guts were rotting.

Ciccotelli said he was almost killed by an infection, and the follow-up surgeries and months of disability nearly ruined his fledgling legal practice. So he looked for a malpractice attorney who would help him file a case against the hospital.

That’s when he ran into a problem faced by many who are harmed in a medical setting: Attorneys refuse their cases, not because the harm didn’t happen but because the potential economic damages are too low.

 By T. Christian Miller and Jeff Gerth, ProPublica 

Dr. Daniel Budnitz, at his office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga. Budnitz has campaigned to have flow restrictors -- safety plastic devices fitted into the necks of medicine bottles to slow the release of fluid -- added to all liquid medicines, but so far he’s had limited success. Photo: Bryan Meltz for ProPublica

Dr. Daniel Budnitz, at his office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga. Budnitz has campaigned to have flow restrictors — safety plastic devices fitted into the necks of medicine bottles to slow the release of fluid — added to all liquid medicines, but so far he’s had limited success. Photo: Bryan Meltz for ProPublica

This story was produced in collaboration with Consumer Reports.

Starting in 2007, Dr. Daniel Budnitz, a scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Medication Safety Program, began tracking an obscure but unsettling statistic about children’s health.

Each year, more and more kids were being rushed to emergency rooms after swallowing potentially toxic doses of medication. By 2011, federal estimates put the figure at about 74,000, eclipsing the number of kids under 6 sent to ERs from car crashes.